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Exploring new Tech. for big game recovery

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Exploring new Tech. for big game recovery

Old 01-12-2021, 10:12 AM
Typical Buck
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Default Exploring new Tech. for big game recovery

As a guy that been bowhunting for nearly 50 years in many many states and for many many species and who has been on hundreds of archery tracking jobs for myself and others, the importance of recovering game cant be overstated. Some folks are good at it and other, not so much but of equal importance is when do you call it? When do you determine that all efforts have been exhausted? When do you call in the big dogs (literally)

Ideally when release the arrow or bolt or bullet, we go to the spot the animal last stood , we take up the trail and it leads us to the animal but this is not always the case. Sometimes we start with conventional blood trailing, then grid searches and then a buddy or two, then a dog. Then the lingering doubt about the hit, the sleepless nights, then the "did I do enough?"

I think every bowhunter and crossbow hunter that has a few years under his belt can relate. What if there were an additional tool in the tool box? That's what I thought while on stand this last season after a rather lengthy search for a hog Id arrowed.

So I began investigating another tool for the big game recovery tool box. I researched and then contacted my state's DNR and was directed to the LT. in charge of exactly what I was considering as a new tool. Then I came across another person who was one season ahead of me in employing the exact same methodology to searching for big game animal carcasses. His success rate was 100%

Despite this person not being a bowhunter (he did however enjoy gun deer hunting) he was asked by a friend to aid in the search of an arrow shot deer. He agreed and found the deer in short order.

His method of search was a Thermal imaging capable drone. WI has some wording about using aircraft to aid in the hunting regulations but nothing about drone usage for carcass recovery. To the casual observer, they might not understand that differences between hunting with an unmanned aircraft and using the same aircraft to search for the carcass of a dead animal but its exactly these subtle differences that are key to the legality of using a drone for carcass recovery.

I wrote up a usage plan for thermal drone recovery with some pretty strict guidelines that I would adhere to and sent them to the WI DNR person in charge of all things drones. I copied the vice chair of the WI Natural resources board as well as my local warden.

Since that time, Ive shared a few emails with the DNR lead person assigned to drone usage and a few conversations with the Natural Resources Board Vice chair. All the conversation were positive and provided the legal affirmation I needed to go forward. I was fortunate in that the person before me that was using a drone had also worked with the DNR to ensure legality. In fact, that person has conducted carcass recovery with a DNR warden participating in the recovery.

Again, What I am talking about is currently the laws regarding Wisconsin. I have not explored others states and cant speak to the legality there.

Here are a few of the self imposed regulations I included in my draft document that I sent to the DNR and NRB vice chair.

1. At no time during this recovery effort is any member of the search party allowed to be in possession of a weapon (firearm, archery gear or crossbow) (exception for CC holders). This speaks to the difference between hunting and simple carcass search but limiting the personal protection rights and the 2nd amendments rights is a sticky situation that I cant ask another to wave.

2. If during the carcass location process, the animal sought after is determined to be alive, Drone search efforts will immediately be terminated. The reason is then we switch from carcass recovery to locating a live animal so this fine line must be walked. IT would then be up to the hunter

3. I cannot and will not fly in the following conditions: Rain, Snow, dense fog, or winds in excess of 20 miles per hour. If any of these conditions develop after the search has begun, the search will be terminated.

4. Depending on the location of the search, and upon checking sectional maps and B4Ufly, it may be determined that the airspace involved is restricted or prohibited regarding the use of a drone. Should a carcass search originate in an unrestricted area but later move into airspace that is restricted or prohibited, the search will immediately be terminated.

Some of those items are regulated by the DNR, other regulated by the FAA and still others I will insist upon myself. As of this writing I am studying for the FAA's Part 107 exam in an effort to become certified to use a drone in such a manner.

I cant find game animals with a thermal drone without buying one first, so I bought an Evo II Dual. This is a public safety tool used by police, fire and search and rescue specifically due to its Flir Boson camera. This particular drone is very new to the market having been released in spring of 2020 and even getting one was a challenge as they were in high demand.

This drones capabilities mean that its rather pricey. This Evo II dual cost quite a bit and that was just the start. Since Ive bought ive spent a bit more to get all I need for such an endeavor.

This link will explain the Drone's abilities.


In theory, this is how it will work. I myself or another will shoot an animal and if unable to recover, I will Follow the guidance Ive written and if all is clear, I would put the drone in the air and begin search, climbing to about 200 feet, switching to thermal mode and begin the search in the last known area the sign directed the search to begin at.

In practice, the only other person in the state doing this sort of recovery, (mentioned earlier) has been recording his efforts. Im linking a few of his deer recovery videos.

If you are impatient fast forward to 3:45 mark of the video.

https://youtu.be/3ylCgk_Ix_4 1:50 in this video

https://youtu.be/QcvqB4fkC1U In this video, fast forward to 3:20

I think Those videos explain it pretty well. You are seeing what the pilot saw as transmitted back to him from the camera. The screen on the controller is very small and wont lend it self to seeing the level of detail I will need to see to spot the heat signature so I tried linking my Iphone7 as the display screen. It was better but still too small. I needed to upgrade to an Ipad mini to have a larger screen. Then because I know I will likely be in heavy cover for most searches, a signal booster would extend the range and communication between the controller and the drone So that accessory was included. When flying during the day, a sun shield will reduce the glare on the Ipad screen so that was the next addition.

All of these items will of course be attached to the controller itself. Upon adding these items, the controller got to be about 3 pounds. It was not comfortable or very manageable especially when one hand is removes to select items on the Ipad touch screen. I needed to invent a solution.

This is what I designed and printed on my 3D printers.

It entirely likely that I wont be able to get to the search area with my 4x4 truck or even my ATV and may need to walk in to find a suitable location to launch. That means all the gear need to be packed in so portability will be important. The drone came with a sturdy case with a handle but Id like to be hands free so I modified the case so I can wear it both walking or on my ATV. That case will weigh about 30 to 35 pounds.

Here are the contents of the upper tray.

The lower tray

I modified the case by adding back pack straps.

Its its own separate bag will be the launch pad and lighting. because I cant predict what the ground will look like at a launch site or if tall grass and weeds or soft snow will be a problem.

I learned very quickly that the legs of the drone are too short and the very expensive gimbal make contact with the launch pad during landings. There is not enough under clearance.

So I designed and 3D printed leg extensions to increase the clearance. They added very little weight.

As such, I needed to modify the case.

The expensive camera under the drone is protected by a Gimbal cover. The gimbal cover MUST BE REMOVED prior to launch. Failing to do so can damage the gimbal. After only a few time removing as reattaching the gimbal cover, one of the legs broke (I later learned a common problem with the design) Without the tab the cover will not function.

I opted to design and 3D print my own gimbal cover, one that is self flagging so it will alert me to the fact that I have not removed it before flight.

https://youtu.be/zcx0lj2OTBM This thermal drone is pretty expensive and there is always the possibility that a crash could happen and the unit could go missing due to a signal loss. To increase the chances of recovery, Im adding some things to the drone to make finding it easier. The first thing was getting a very loud beacon that also includes a flashing strobe (for night time recovery of a missing drone) Despite its small size, its as loud as the smoke alarm in my house. Next was creating a mounting method via my 3D printer.

Again the 3D printer comes to the rescue and now the beacon has a home.

I also added some strobe lighting Pay no attention to the red and green covers, those are snap on/off. I will run these lights without the colored covers so the strobe lights will be white.

There are specific FAA requirements for drone lighting for night time operations. The lights have to visible for 3 Statute miles. There are only a few makers of such lights. 2 of the lights came with the drone. I added a few more to exceed FAA minimums. This is a video I made of the lights. You will also see the lights I will need to pack in to illuminate the launch pad. (I have since added more lighting after this video) Not only will the strobes meet the FAA requirement but they will help me keep visual line of sight with the craft while flying both day and night.

All accessories will be attached with Dual Lock (better than velcro)

These additions will increase the odds of finding the drone should it go missing during a flight.

https://youtu.be/AYb3aBbCIZ8 Because the person I would be doing the carcass recovery will know the approximate location of the animal and the lay of the land better that I will, they will need to see what I am seeing. This means they will have to peer over my shoulder the entire time as they will recognize landmarks that will mean nothing to me. If the person is shorter than me and if I care to social distance, I need and alternative means for them to see what the thermal camera sees so I added a Live Deck and will carry a small laptop to link to so the other person can view the search from a distance. This is what live deck does.

https://youtu.be/NeknmdLfML0 So now I need to haul in the live deck the laptop and cables. I have also purchased a few additional batteries (each has roughly 40 minutes of fly time. This will be reduced when weight is added or its windy. (the backpack straps are looking more and more appealing now.)

In prior videos you were able to listen to the drone sound. It sounds like a swarm of angry bees. Its fairly loud so when I learned about low noise props, I bought some. Then I brought out my sound meter and compared the noise levels.

https://youtu.be/TQrrNRMTUy0 At this writing Ive not attempted a carcass recover. Ive been learning to fly (this is my first drone) But I have been practicing and videoing my efforts.

https://youtu.be/ZPfSlJ0MOmU Then during another practice flight I encountered a deer.

https://youtu.be/b4TAG44-sxo I will continue to practice flying and learning the controls and the features in preparation for next seasons hunts. I will also take the part 107 exam to get certified. In the meantime, Im contacting local law enforcement and public safety to offer this tool as an asset to them should the need arise.

This is a work in progress and I will have plenty of time to perfect the process before the 2021 deer season. I will keep a running blog on the progress of this new tool and recovery methodology. What is unknown at this writing is the time factor. How long will a big game animal give off a heat signature that is warm enough (meaning warmer than its surroundings) that it can be picked up by the camera. That will be dependent on the temperature of the ground and the amount of time since the animal died. I will learn as I go but Im also aware that even if the carcass has gone cold, warm things such as coyotes, wolves, bear, bobcats, vermin and even crows will show themselves on the thermal camera while they dine on the carcass so it may very well be that Im searching for the heat signature of other critters that will lead me to the target.

I intend to you this carcass recovery enterprise as a learning and data gathering tool. And because I will always want to know what Im getting into before I agree to a carcass recovery, Im working on a draft document that will be answered and the terms agreed to by the person wanting such a search conducted. Those draft questions are shown below.


***This is a work in progress and will be revised as needed***

Carcass recovery questionnaire

***At no time during this recovery effort is any member of the search party allowed to be in possession of a weapon (firearm, archery gear or crossbow) *** (exception for CC holders)

***If during the location process, the animal sought after is determined to be alive, Drone search efforts will immediately be terminated ***

***I cannot and will not fly in the following conditions: Rain, Snow, dense fog, or winds in excess of 20 miles per hour. If any of these conditions develop after the search has begun, the search will be terminated***

***Depending on the location of the search, and upon checking sectional maps, it may be determined that the airspace involved is restricted or prohibited regarding the use of a drone. Should a carcass search originate in an unrestricted area but later move into airspace that is restricted or prohibited, the search will immediately be terminated. ***

Name of person requesting carcass location service: ____________________

Phone Number of same person: __________________________________

County where carcass search will be conducted: ________________________

Nearest municipality (city/town/Village): _______________________________

Nearest intersection of 2 roads:______________

Will the search take place on private land or public land : ________

If public land, it the land county, state or federally controlled: ____

Is the property a military operations area? :____________

Do you anticipate that the animal remained on the property you have permission to search or do you think it may have crossed onto a neighboring property? :________

If the animal crossed onto another property, do you have express written or verbal permission to enter that property? :______________

Does the property where the search will be conducted contain any of the following
Power transmission lines, Cell or radio towers, Wind turbines? :_______________

Species of animal carcass to be located: _____________________________

Weapon used while hunting (firearm, archery gear or crossbow): ____________

If Firearm, what caliber: ______________

Was the animal shot with a crossbow?:_____

Was the animal shot with a vertical bow and arrow?:______

If archery or crossbow, what broadhead was used: _____________ Fixed____ Mech.____

did you get an arrow or bolt pass through or is it assumed, still in the animal: _____

What time and date was the animal hit: __________________

How far (in yards) have you already tracked the animal: ________________

How far (yards) from last tracking sign can a 4 x 4 truck be brought in:__________

Is the start point for the search accessible by 4x4 truck:__________

If not accessible by truck, is the area accessible by ATV:_________________

Using the image below, give the number and letter intersection of the assumed impact: _____

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Old 01-12-2021, 12:44 PM
Typical Buck
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Everybody can lose the trail at times. It happens. This is just another option to keep game from going to waste. Folks will still have free will and can opt NOT to seek help with a buddy or dog or drone if they think that they are less of a hunter if they cant find the animal they hit. If personal pride means a person leaves an animal to become coyote food, Its up to the hunter. If calling in a dog or a drone makes you think you failed as a hunter and "coyotes gotta eat too" is your preferred opinion vs. "Hey, I need help finding the animal I hit".
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Old 01-12-2021, 04:52 PM
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Interesting but at what cost to the hunter? And how available would this be? What would be the cost for someone to set this system up for use?
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Old 01-12-2021, 04:59 PM
Typical Buck
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Thus far ive got about $13,000 in this but this thermal drone will will have other uses to make it a profit center aside from gamer recovery in the fall. Im fortunate in that my bowhunting company and offshoots of that company have been very profitable allowing me to create this additional opportunity.
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Old 01-12-2021, 05:06 PM
Nontypical Buck
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I gather your planning to offer this service
if so, where are you willing to go and at what price?
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Old 01-12-2021, 05:34 PM
Typical Buck
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Just in Wisconsin but Im a traveling bowhunter that visits many states and will take it with me what I bowhunt Africa this fall. As to a fee structure, Ive not settled on that yet.
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Old 01-12-2021, 07:03 PM
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Just wanted to throw my 2 cents in since I work at an agricultural technology company that specializes in drones.

I think you've got a pretty sweet setup. We haven't messed with Autel drones yet, but they've definitely piqued our interest. A dual cam setup like that is definitely what I would have recommended for this kind of endeavor, although I would have probably gone with a DJI Matrice 210. I've actually used my personal Phantom 4 to help look for a downed deer before. While it could see down through the trees surprisingly well, I never managed to see the deer with the standard RGB camera. A thermal imaging camera would be a definite benefit. The only problem I see, like you said, is how long the thermal camera will be able to detect a downed deer after it dies. The deer's entire body doesn't have to cool to the surrounding temperature, only its outermost surface.
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